Frontman Dave Mustaine has remained the central figure of thrash institution Megadeth since the band’s inception in 1983. But if Mustaine ever had a right-hand man in the group, it was arguably bassist David Ellefson — until he was fired from the band earlier this week.
Their relationship has been on-and-off over the years, from drunken disagreements to legal litigation. But when Ellefson was in Megadeth, the band seemed to fire on all cylinders. Unfortunately, in light of recent events involving an “embarrassing” online interaction between Ellefson and a young woman, the Mustaine-Ellefson partnership has seemingly been severed for good.
It’s the end of a roller-coaster ride that began in 1983 following Mustaine’s ousting from Metallica, and ended with the frontman citing an “already strained relationship” with Ellefson upon firing him from Megadeth on May 24th, 2021.
Below, we break down the timeline of the rocky ride that’s been the relationship of the two legendary thrash-metal bandmates:
Ousted From Metallica, Mustaine Recruits Ellefson for His New Band
In a moment of true heavy metal serendipity, Mustaine was staying in a L.A. apartment when he heard his upstairs neighbor playing the bass line from Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil” over and over again. The neighbor was David Ellefson, and Mustaine happened to be looking for a co-conspirator to launch his new thrash project Megadeth — the artistic response to his former band Metallica.
“I think that’s kind of the beauty of the story of Dave and me,” Ellefson told Joe Daly in 2013. “We come from very different backgrounds, very different upbringings; we met at the epicenter of heavy metal in Hollywood in 1983, both with the aspirations of starting the most kickass band on the planet, and the two different viewpoints that we both have, by and large, is the chemistry of Megadeth.”
The two bonded over metal, drugs, and booze, and the introduction of drummer Gar Samuelson and guitarist Chris Poland — whom brought along their own hard-drug habits — only amplified the hedonism. The degree of consumption led to tensions between band members and especially the two Daves. Mustaine’s short temper would often be directed at his bassist.
“All the problems we had were because of a drug-and-alcohol lifestyle,” Ellefson said on the “Into the Necrosphere” podcast [via Blabbermouth]. “Our manager came in and said, ‘Hey, the future looks bright. It’s yours to have. But you guys have gotta get cleaned up. You’ve gotta get it together.’ And it was interesting, ’cause it was right at a time when other famous bands that we know were also getting clean.”
Megadeth were off to a swift start, releasing their 1985 debut Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! and 1986’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? to critical acclaim. Ellefson’s bass line for “Peace Sells” would even become the MTV News theme song for a few years, highlighting his musical contributions to the band.
Band Breakup and an $18.5 Million Lawsuit
With a rotating cast of guitarists and drummers in and out of the band, Ellefson would be the one mainstay aside from Mustaine until the band broke up in 2002, only to re-form without Ellefson in 2004.
At the time, Ellefson filed a highly publicized lawsuit against Mustaine for a whopping $18.5 million, alleging Mustaine owed him merchandise and publishing royalties. In January 2005, the case was dismissed in court.
“When David Ellefson sued me for $18.5 million, and the judge dismissed it and then made him pay a bunch of money on top of that, he got his ass handed to him in public,” Mustaine reflected in an 2020 interview with Fox Sports 910. “And I was really, really, really hurt by the things that he said about me. And I thought, ‘You know what? If I never see him again, I guess I’ll be okay.’ And I was sad, but I figured he was gone.”
Ellefson Returns to Megadeth, As a “Salaried Employee”
Improbably, Ellefson would rejoin Megadeth in 2010 and record at least three more albums with the group. But, as the bassist revealed in 2019, instead of returning as a part-owner of Megadeth, as he was previously, he was now a “salaried employee” of the band.
“I’m not going to lie; going from being a co-founding owner to just a sideman musician was initially why I didn’t come back in 2004,” Ellefson told Metal Rules. “I was not happy with the participations that were presented to me. In recent times, coming back, I found great joy in doing music with a lot of other people in other settings that helped me fall back in love with playing music. Now I can come back into or go into musical situations and be able to be there for a purpose and level of pay. Being a sideman absolves you from being involved in all the other stuff.”
Not a Co-Founder?
Ellefson’s employee role was indicative of a longer running incongruence between him and Mustaine, who insists Ellefson was not a founding member of Megadeth. Most sources and biographies cite Ellefson as the founding bassist, but Mustaine insists that a bassist named Matt Kisselstein pre-dated Ellefson.
“Megadeth was already in its formative phase long before I even knew David Ellefson,” Mustaine told radio station Real Rock 99.3 in 2016. “The name Megadeth didn’t come up until after Dave and I had met. But there was another bass player before Dave.”
The Final Straw
Despite all that had transpired between Mustaine and Ellefson, it seemed like the two had patched things up. When Mustaine was battling throat cancer in 2019, Ellefson took over the role of band spokesperson, giving interviews regarding the band’s as-yet-unreleased new album and keeping fans updated on Mustaine’s condition.
But Ellefson’s latest incident appears to have been the last straw. A leaked video of the 57-year-old — who’s been married for 27 years — engaging in a sexually explicit online encounter with a young woman leaked on the internet earlier this month. Initially, it was suggested Ellefson groomed an underage girl, though he shared an apparent testimonial from the woman herself, who admitted to sharing the video with a friend but insisting that encounter was consensual and that she wasn’t underage.
Ellefson offered an apologetic statement, admitting to the “embarrassing” encounters, but declaring they were “private, adult interactions.” Megadeth responded with their own statement that appeared to distance themselves from the bassist: “There are clearly aspects of David’s private life that he has kept to himself.”
A couple weeks later, Ellefson was fired from Megadeth, with a statement from Mustaine reading, “We do not take this decision lightly. While we do not know every detail of what occurred, with an already strained relationship, what has already been revealed now is enough to make working together impossible moving forward.”
For his part, Ellefson issued a statement focusing more on the criminal aspect of the leaked video, promising to work with police “in their investigation into charges regarding revenge pornography to be filed against the person who posted this video.” While not directly acknowledging his firing, he did wish his “bandmates” well on their upcoming tour.
Thus ends the working relationship between the two Daves. Ostensibly, Ellefson recorded bass lines for Megadeth’s forthcoming album, but it remains to be seen whether his tracks will be re-recorded with another bassist. The two always found common ground in music. But as Ellefson told Daly, that was about it.
“Dave and I are two very different people, and it’s interesting that two guys in the same band named ‘Dave’ could be so different,” Ellefson said.
Megadeth Announce Return of James LoMenzo as Touring Bassist
In Mustaine’s own words, there’s no chance of Ellefson returning to Megadeth, and rumors swirled regarding a possible replacement.
On August 11th, Megadeth announced that former band member James LoMenzo was rejoining the band as touring bassist. LoMenzo was in Megadeth from 2006-2010 and played on two studio LPs. He was also a longtime member of glam metal act White Lion and has credits on albums by David Lee Roth and Black Label Society.
It’s undetermined if LoMenzo contributed to the recording sessions for the new album or the re-tracked bass parts. But he was in tow for Megadeth’s 2021 co-headlining tour with Lamb of God.
Ellefson Launches New Band The Lucid, Says He’s “Not Bitter” About Megadeth
In October 2021, David Ellefson gave his first interviews since being ousted from Megadeth. They were mostly positive, focusing on the formation of his new supergroup, The Lucid, who dropped their self-titled debut album in October.
Speaking with SiriusXM’s Eddie Trunk, Ellefson opened up for the first time about the incident that led to his removal from Megadeth. The bassist said he was “disappointed” but “not bitter” about how things went down. As for his relationship with the Megadeth camp, Ellefson insisted that there’s no “ill will” between the two parties. He also said there was no rising tension between himself and Mustaine leading up to the incident.
“Dave and I are grown men, and we have opinions,” Ellefson added. “It’s not the thing where it’s just Dave and three side guys when it’s me and the band. And apparently, they didn’t want that anymore — they wanted it to not be that.”